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Scientists Find New Cause of Lyme Disease in North Dakota

Scientists say they found a new Lyme-disease causing bacteria in several Midwestern states, including North Dakota. (iStockphoto)
Scientists say they found a new Lyme-disease causing bacteria in several Midwestern states, including North Dakota. (iStockphoto)
February 10, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - Nature lovers beware. Scientists believe they have found a new species of bacteria that can cause Lyme disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, doctors found at least six cases in patients only in the upper Midwest.

Microbiologist Dr. Jeannine Petersen says the CDC worked with health officials from North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin to test about 9,000 samples from residents who were bitten by deer ticks. They decided to investigate further when a tiny fraction of patients showed signs of something new.

"There are a few differences, however, and so for this new bacteria, the disease seems to be associated with more with nausea and vomiting," says Petersen. "There's more diffuse rashes and a higher concentration of bacteria in the blood."

Petersen says the new strand of the disease, called Borrelia mayonii, seems to only affect about three percent of ticks. That is far below the close to 30 percent of ticks infected by the only other, more common Lyme-disease bacteria, known as Borrelia burgdorferi.

The CDC is running more tests to see if the new bacteria shows up elsewhere in the U.S. Currently, the agency is investigating mid-Atlantic and northeastern states, where cases of Lyme disease can be common. Petersen says there is no reason to be overly worried about the new bacteria. She suggests the old ideas apply when it comes to protecting yourself from ticks while out on a hike.

"Use insect repellent when they're outdoors," she says. "If they've been outdoors then to conduct a full-body tick check. And then they can also wear permethrin-treated clothing when outdoors in order to reduce their risk of tick bite."

She says the current treatments for Lyme disease also work on the new bacteria.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND